Maddening deserts, revered music and modernist thinking are what Paul Bowles will be remembered by.
Author, musician and expatriate Paul Bowles uprooted himself from U.S. culture, breaking free of national conventions. He spent most of his life in Tangier, Morocco, until his death in 1999. Bowles revitalized his creative viewpoint by writing music and literature as a U.S. outsider looking in.
Celebrating what would have been Bowles’ 100th birthday, the Paul Bowles Centennial Celebration releases much of his music for the first time while honoring his literary contributions. Performances of his renowned compositions, experimental writing, film and personal anecdotes about Bowles will celebrate the artist in the Cowell Conference Room and Music Center Recital Hall this weekend.
Many of his friends are expected to attend the celebration, which will feature Bowles’ short stories and films stemming from his life and works. Irene Herrmann, inheritor of Bowles’ musical estate, is making it accessible to the public. Story readings, concerts and anecdotes will celebrate a man who was not confined to any one medium of artistic expression.
Literature professor Tyrus Miller has organized writing performances such as short stories and paper readings for the ceremony, which will take place in the Cowell Conference Room. Bowles’ writing pushes boundaries, Miller said.
“He has a kind of moral transgression,” Miller said. “He’s willing to actually contemplate without judgment, without moral dismissal, instances of violence, instances of cruelty, his personal derangement, madness, extreme states — and he’s able to tell that in a very cool voice.”
Bowles demonstrates his calm narration of the horrific in his most well-known novel, “The Sheltering Sky.”
The New York Times best seller delves into the North African desert, telling a story of doomed characters who fall into a sandpit of madness, disorientation and a dry reality as unforgiving as the desert itself.
“He actually represented a bridge between the earlier generation of Gertrude Stein and the Paris expatriate thinkers of the 1920s and this later generation, the beat generation writers of the 1960s, even contemporary writers,” Miller said.
Presenting a paper on beat literature at the event, literature graduate student Jimmy Fazzino said he considers Bowles an influential thinker for American writing.
“I study beat lit not just in an American context, but in a world context,” Fazzino said. “Bowles would be someone who I would say broadens American writers. Since Bowles was in Tangier, it attracted other writers to Tangier and to Morocco … bringing them out of an American point of view.”
While Bowles left a heavy footprint in literary circles, his trek through 20th century music is less broadcasted. Herrmann, the event’s music director, is the inheritor of Bowles’ musical estate — a one-of-a-kind collection of music, including scores composed by Bowles that have gone unpublished or out of print. These pieces will be showcased at the event in a unique array of orchestra, spoken word and opera.
“I’m the one person who can distribute his music,” Herrmann said. “It’s a rare opportunity for [students] to hear very exceptional American art music … performed by people who will really do the music justice.”
The Bowles celebration will also be an opportunity to hear firsthand accounts of this artist. Herrmann knew Bowles during his last years, when she bonded with him through music.
Herrmann said the event will have a personal connection, full of insight not just about Bowles as an artist but as a person.
Hermann, who invited many of the guests scheduled to speak at the celebration, extended invitations to people who knew Bowles personally.
“It’s a mix of scholarship and personal anecdote at a university conference, which is something very unusual,” Herrmann said.
Elaborating on what makes Bowles’ works distinct, namely in his novel “The Sheltering Sky,” Miller offered his thoughts on Bowles’ new take on ethics.
“[Bowles expresses a] moral experimentalism that sort of says, ‘I’m going to step back and tell you something that normally you would only be told with a certain kind of judgment,’” Miller said. “‘I’m going to tell you and I’m going to leave it up to you to judge.’”